[photogallerylink id=31860 align=right]About the time Shane Carwin’s 40th consecutive punch hit him in the face, Brock Lesnar realized he couldn’t argue if the referee stopped their fight and took away his UFC heavyweight title.
When Carwin’s punches gradually lost their power, Lesnar knew he would survive – and one round later, he dramatically finished a comeback within a comeback at UFC 116.
Lesnar rallied from a horrific first-round beating to stop Carwin with a choke in the second round, defending his title Saturday night in his first fight since an intestinal illness nearly killed him.
Lesnar (5-1), the intimidating former pro wrestler and the UFC’s biggest pay-per-view star, is a noticeably humbler man after surviving diverticultis and a brutal fight with Carwin, the previously undefeated interim champion.
“From that fight to this one feels like 10 years,” Lesnar said. “It’s been a grueling road. To come back from all that, and to be here and to win, words just cannot describe it. I really feel like I’m in a dream.”
Lesnar took down Carwin in the second round and got Carwin (12-1) in an arm triangle choke, forcing Carwin to tap out at the MGM Grand Garden. Instead of celebrating with trash talk and obscene gestures, as he did at UFC 100 a year ago after beating Frank Mir, Lesnar praised his opponent and basked in cheers from the same arena that booed him last July.
“I knew he was getting tired,” Lesnar said. “Each shot was less dramatic than the other. … I stand before you a humble champion, and I’m still the toughest (guy) around, baby.”
Lesnar’s victory was about more than brute toughness. He showcased his improved ground game in the fight, leading to a submission victory on a move that would have been beyond his abilities just a year ago.
“The thought that crossed my mind when I was under there was that this isn’t how it’s going to end,” Lesnar said before pointing at his heavyweight title belt. “I’ve been through a lot, but I wasn’t going home without this thing, that’s for sure.”
In the co-main event in the UFC’s hometown, Chris Leben stopped Yoshihiro Akiyama with 40 seconds left in the final round to earn a dramatic victory in Leben’s second fight in two weeks. Welterweight Chris Lytle also beat Matt Brown, and veteran Stephan Bonnar stopped Krzysztof Soszynski with a second-round flurry.
The victory is another surprising twist in the unique career path of Lesnar, the former college wrestling champion, professional fake wrestler and Minnesota Vikings tryout player who has become MMA’s biggest name, if not its most skilled practitioner, in just six pro fights.
Lesnar dropped out of two scheduled fights with Carwin last fall, citing injuries and fatigue that culminated when he fell seriously ill on a hunting trip in Canada. He was pronounced healthy early this year and began training for this long-overdue fight with Carwin, who beat Mir at UFC 111 in New Jersey last March to claim the interim title.
Carwin, whose previous 12 fights never reached the second round, and Lesnar slammed heavily into the cage in the opening minute, but Carwin quickly got Lesnar on the defensive with an uppercut that staggered him. Carwin punched Lesnar in the head for the better part of two minutes, cutting Lesnar badly over his left eye, yet he survived and even stood up.
“My hat is off to him,” said Carwin, who was taken to a hospital after hyperventilating in the locker room. “He’s the champion. I fell down the mountain, but I’ll get back up.”
The fighters exchanged a high-five before the second round, and Lesnar got on top of Carwin with a takedown move. Lesnar’s wrestling skills eventually put him in position to choke Carwin, a former college wrestler who might have expended too much energy trying to finish it in the first round.
Earlier, Leben posted a remarkable victory just two weeks after his last fight, returning to the octagon as an injury replacement for Wanderlei Silva. Despite one of the quickest turnarounds in recent MMA history after beating Aaron Simpson last month, Leben survived Akiyama’s skill and landed superior strikes before getting Akiyama in a triangle choke, forcing the touted Japanese judo star to tap out of his second UFC bout.
“It’s so overwhelming,” Leben said. “I laid in bed last night and cried because I want to win so bad. My coaches and trainers put so much into it. The emotion afterward is mind-boggling.”
Earlier, Bonnar salvaged his career with a dramatic second-round stoppage of Soszynski, who won the fighters’ first meeting last February. Bonnar took significant punishment and developed serious cuts in the first round, but he staggered Soszynski with a knee to the face and then landed several dozen left hands to the prone Soszynski’s ear before the fight was stopped.
Bonnar (15-7), known as the American Psycho for his slicked-back good looks, ended a three-match losing streak by stopping Soszynski, who beat Bonnar in Australia when the fight was stopped because of a cut from an inadvertent head butt.
“I like winning ugly, and boy, do I look ugly right now,” Bonnar said.
The MGM Grand Garden crowd included Evander Holyfield, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Nevada Sen. Harry Reid.